Chanticleer, the all-male a cappella choir based in San Francisco, takes its name from a literary source, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, specifically, “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.”
Baritone Charlie Erikson, a founding member of the ensemble, was reading The Canterbury Tales when the group was considering names, and he suggested Chanticleer, the name of the “clear-singing” rooster in “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” For his part, Chaucer had actually borrowed the name from the ancient French folk tale Renard the Fox. The name is a combination of the French words chanter (“to sing”) and clair (“clear”).
In Chaucer’s story, Chanticleer is a proud and fierce rooster who rules the roost. “For crowing there was not his equal in all the land,” he wrote. “His voice was merrier than the merry organ that plays in church, and his crowing from his resting place was more trustworthy than a clock. His comb was redder than fine coral and turreted like a castle wall, his bill was black and shone like a jet, and his legs and toes were like azure. His nails were whiter than the lily and his feathers were like burnished gold.”
“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is regarded as the best known of The Canterbury Tales. A “beast fable,” it belongs to the same genre as Aesop’s Fables, since it uses animal characters to teach a moral lesson. For its SCP Special concerts Dec. 5-6, at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chanticleer won’t be offering moral tales per se, but through its music, it will celebrate the virtues of the season: kindness, compassion and love.